Back in 2015 during my second read-through of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, I got the itch to make my own little iconographic representations of the base Allomantic metals and their powers. My goal was to strip things down to some simple visual language:

8 goolden, geometric symbols I made to represent the main Allomantic metals from the Mistborn series: steel, iron, brass, zinc, pewter, tin, bronze, and copper.

It was a fun and quick little project — and I didn’t think much about it until last year when Isaac Stewart, art director for Dragonsteel, reached out to me. Turns out they were looking for some nerdy folks to help design items for the Year of Sanderson swag boxes, and my name had resurfaced! Isaac already knew I loved Brandon’s books, and he’d gathered some of my previous work as reference for a specific project from the world of Sel: bandages

Some background

The world of Sel is the home of Elantris and The Emperor’s Soul within Brandon’s literary Cosmere. I specifically don’t want to spoil much of the former, but it involves a decrepit city full of people who are doomed to accumulate minor injuries until they go mad. Fun!

An arrangement of vintage, paper and metallic packaging for various Johnson & Johnson Band-Aid products. If I had to guess, probably dating from the 1920s–1940s.
Reference image provided by Dragonsteel

We started with the above reference image and a brief:

Purpose/Tone: A bit of a spoof. In Elantris, Sarene brings items into the city to help the Elantrians inside who are suffering the Shaod. This box has band-aids intended to be used by Elantrians on their cuts that don’t heal.

With just these couple prompts, a template from the manufacturer, and some color ideas (also since it’d been a while, a quick re-read of parts of Elantris), we were off to the races.

Figuring it out

I dove into paper and pencil first. As usual, this was to get as many ideas (especially the bad ones) out of my brain as quickly as possible — but I don’t really have a consistent and organized way to handle these. Years of attending design conferences have left me with more little notebooks than I could ever use, so I just grab whatever’s handiest 😅

Me holding a little sketchbook filled with scrawlings of title ideas and tin layout.
Me holding a little sketchbook filled with scrawlings tin layout ideas.

I took this step only as far as I needed to before starting to digitally rough out digital layouts — I work in Figma every day for my job at Font Awesome so I’m pretty speedy at this point, especially for such simple stuff. Eventually, 3 different directions and some guiding principles emerged:

Rough Figma layout of the Cityscape concept broken into four panels. 1: Silhouette of Elantris cityscape and outer walls. 2: Prominent Aon Rao on blue strata inspired by vintage bandage tins. 3: Patterning along the bottom blue strip. 4: Testimontal blurb and/or disclaimer, also showing the different Aons featured on the bandages.
Layout concept 1: “Cityscape”
Rough Figma layout of the Text Block concept broken into four panels. 1: Pattern of Aons used on the bandages within. 2: Large text-based label reminiscent of reference materials. Perhaps a snappy slogan split acrooss either side of the central Aon. 3: Even more Aons! 4: Testimonial, slogan, Aon examples, or usage illustration.
Layout concept 2: “Text Block”
Rough Figma layout of the Filigree concept broken into four panels. 1: Ornate, geometric Aon presentation (with translation?) 2: More topographical view of Elantris and the Aon Rao, emphasizing the AonDor’s connection to the land. 3: Ornate, geometric Aon presentation (with translation?) 4: Yet another testimonial or description block with Aon examples or bandage illustration, but they’re cut off by a sneaky little chasm on the side.
Layout concept 3: “Filigree”

Years of working at a product design agency taught me to never hand over a lick o’ work without context, so I also put together a little presentation to explain my choices:

Drawing the bits

By and large, Isaac and the team loved them straight away. There were some minor tweaks to make (like adjusting the name from Elant-Fix to Elantri-Fix), but the third concept clearly won. Even my written copy got to stick around!

But I needed to start working on some of the fiddlier, ornamental bits — so back to the sketchbook I went:

Me holding a little sketchbook filled with scrawlings decorative corners and elements.

The visuals for the borders and the big, central Aon Rao were first to settle, and helped inform probably my favorite bit to make: the title treatment.

The Elantri-Fix tin title treatment. Tall, serif letters surrounded by radiance lines and an interwoven border.

For other non-title text, I turned to my favorite place to go type shopping: Future Fonts. More specifically, the inherent strength and stylish flair in East of Rome’s excellent Auroc.

Thanks to planning everything in Figma, I was able to make the title lockup and all other reusable bits as component instances. Any changes I made to the main component would cascade through the entire layout and save me a bunch of time.

Figma screenshot showing the different component elements that I reused: borders for front, back, top, and side panels; title treatment explorations, and aons.

Various components also came in handy when making the bandages themselves — all of the Aons could carry over, along with colors and some ornamental elements. So I really only had to a bandage component once, and could swap in the rest on the fly.

Making it real

As the deadline loomed for wrapping things up, I was in the midst of helping moving my parents across the country. So I didn’t have a ton of extra brain bandwidth to come up with a comprehensive recommendation, but I did offer the Dragonsteel team my thoughts on some fancy finishes and processes we could use during fabrication.

Final designs were approved, files sent, and fees paid (the fastest turnaround I’ve seen)! Then I waited for 10 months. Manufacturing ain’t easy, folks!

The new year arrived, and I followed Brandon’s video updates on YouTube to hear any news of my precious li’l adhesive friends and their flip-top aluminum house. Then lo and behold, the YouTube unboxing videos began to appear.

Screenshot of Jessie and Eric from the 17 Shard YouTube video where they open the Sel box. Eric is holding the tin I designed!
Jessie and Eric from the 17th Shard

I really can’t overstate how much all these videos warmed my heart. Everyone was very complementary and really seemed to love the cheeky tone and Easter eggs tucked throughout the designs.

Both the tin and the bandages came out even better than I’d hoped! Isaac, the Dragonsteel team, and the manufacturer knocked my vision out of the park, and I couldn’t be happier with the result. They even gave me a few copies of my own to squirrel away or give to friends and family.

And now, for some more pictures because I just enjoy looking at them 😄

3/4 front and back profile photos of the tin from the Dragonsteel store product page
Images from the Dragonsteel online store
A 3/4 profile and tin bottom photo I took in my home office
Some quick shots I took in my office
Photo of my hand holing all the different colors of bandages, fanned out in an alluring display
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